September 17, 2020  (Web Review)

In Search of Dracula

Kino Lorber, 82 min., PG, DVD: $14.99, Blu-ray: $21.99, May 26

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Based on the bestselling 1972 book by Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, which argued that Ţepeş inspired the character Stoker created, the movie is rather a mishmash: the sections on Stoker’s career, the popularity of his book, and the life of Ţepeş are quite good, illustrated with appropriate artwork and archival material, even though the visual effects and dramatic recreations in the Ţepeş sequences (in which Lee dons a beard to play the ruler) are very primitive. The modern footage of peasant life in Romania is also interesting, though the scenes of folk dancing come off as bait for tourists. But the portion of the film dealing with Dracula’s cinematic history is unbalanced: there is, quite appropriately, considerable footage from Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, an important milestone in vampire films, but though Bela Lugosi’s early career receives extensive coverage, his actual appearance as Dracula onscreen gets short shrift, perhaps because of copyright issues. Even most of Lee’s Dracula films for Hammer Studios receive only cursory mention, with clips pretty much limited to the later, inferior entries. Moreover Floyd takes the opportunity to add digressions only tangentially related to Dracula. He includes a long section on Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein, for instance, rather limply tying it into the narrative by reference to her acquaintance John Polidori’s short story “The Vampyre”. Also shoehorned into the narrative is a segment dealing with a young man called only Bill, who is described as suffering from a psychological disorder that made him believe he was a vampire and led him to cut himself and drink the blood. Apart from the fact that the footage looks staged, the sequence is exceeded in irrelevance only by another on silent-film actress Theda Bara, which is included simply because she was the first to be called a “vamp.” There is a strong scent of padding to these intrusions, but though Floyd’s film is erratically constructed and rather dated, it can still serve as a basic introduction to the vampire myth and Dracula’s role in it for today’s viewers. A strong optional purchase. (F. Swietek)